WHAT I'VE LEARNED THIS WEEK
Ryan Giggs, as widely expected, signed a new one-year contract with Manchester United this morning that will ensure the Welshman is still wearing that No. 11 jersey at Old Trafford past his 40th birthday in November. If he features against Norwich City tomorrow, it will be his 1000th senior career appearance once his 64 caps for Wales and four matches for the Great Britain men’s Olympic football team are factored in. Sir Alex Ferguson long ago ran out of superlatives to describe Giggs and today settled for the words “phenomenal” and “unique” while casting doubt over whether the midfielder’s achievements would ever be replicated. The simple answer is they won’t – with modern day football as it is, no player will again spend 23 years at a club that has remained at the very top throughout that period of time and win 25 leading trophies in the process, a figure that is likely to swell by the end of the current season. Playing until 40 is one thing – playing for a United team that continue to dominate the English football landscape at that age is quite another. When all things are considered – longevity at the highest level, trophies, talent, that remarkable ability to reinvent himself as a central midfielder after years flying down the wings – Giggs is the greatest British footballer of all time. When he does retire, United should also retire the No. 11 shirt in his honour.
Thousands of column inches have been dedicated to Rafael Benitez’s outburst/rant/tirade/plea/premeditated attack (delete where appropriate) after Chelsea’s FA Cup win away to Middlesbrough on Wednesday. The Spaniard’s complaints may well have been made with the very best intentions and he may even have had a point, but am I the only one who thought it was all a little embarrassing and deliberately theatrical? It felt very much the same way after his infamous ‘Fact’ histrionics – dubbed Rafa’s Rant – when he was Liverpool manager. Both press conferences screamed of a manager saying, ‘Look at me, look at me’.
Gareth Bale’s performances, match-winning turns and goals for Tottenham Hotspur this term remind me very much of Cristiano Ronaldo’s breakout season for United in 2006/07, when he scored 23 goals en route to helping the club to reclaim the Premier League after three seasons without it. Bale, of course, has a considerable way to go to get to Ronaldo’s level, and it will be no disgrace if he never gets there given that the Real Madrid forward, alongside his current nemesis Lionel Messi, lays claim to being one of the greatest of all time. But there are glaring similarities – the pace, the power, the muscular physique that was unthinkable for a wide player not that long ago, the ability to play across the front and, naturally, the capacity to score incredible goals at vital stages in games, the latest evidence of that coming against West Ham United on Monday.